Your mom is not a typical mother.
For your third birthday, she led you into a Target and showed you how to move objects to the wrong shelves to confuse the security guys. Then, you stuffed the loot into your pockets. In a pinch, she'd pretend to be pregnant, so she could stuff her maternity clothes full of groceries. Once you got older, she gave you harder jobs. “Remember,” she told you one day, “People will always underestimate you as a woman. Use that to you advantage.” You did, too. No guy suspected the gorgeous woman who he'd helped up when she broke her heel to have stolen his wallet. You were good. You excelled at, shall we say, borrowing.
Still, everything you knew came from your mother. For every wallet you swiped, car you hardwired, and gentlemen you hoodwinked, your mother had done a bigger, better job. This is your chance live up to her expectations.
* * * * *
You snort into your drink. You look around to make sure no one saw. It definitely wasn't the self-conscious laugh of a girl flirting with a boy. Your mom had trained you on the perfect laugh. You can practically see her shaking her head. The boy beside you notices, but you aren't there to flirt with him. You've already won your prize.
Sitting across the overcrowded table is a tan, Hispanic man with dark hair mixed with gray. His smile is unnervingly gorgeous. His chocolate brown eyes are crinkled in a boisterous smile. His gaze roams over you like he wants to see more of you than he can. Some stupid joke grabs his attention and his eyes flick away. You steel a glance at the boy beside you. He's smirking devilishly at you. For a second, you think, He knows! Then, reason rushes back. Of course not. How could he? So, you return his gaze over a sip of expensive red wine.
“You are not the first senorita to catch Papa's eye,” he says, leaning in close so that your skin prickles. “You certainly won't be the last.” He leans back. He's completely certain that he's rattled you. However, your composure won't fall so easily.
“Perhaps,” you reply with a mischievous smile, “but we'll have to put that argument to bed, won't we?” You share a smile that speaks to a relationship beyond friendship.
He raises an eyebrow and chuckles softly. “Too true, senorita,” he answers with a wink. Then, he looks over at his father and his voice hardens. “I believe that is how Papa settles all of his debts, or short-lived fantasies.” He suddenly sounds lighthearted, but there's a question in his voice. “Not that you would know, of course.”
“Of course not,” you parry in an equally light tone. “Otherwise, how would I still pique his interest?”
The boy laughs bitterly. “Yes, the only thing my father cannot resist more than a pretty figure or green paper is being told no. He would so to the ends of the earth in pursuit of anything denied him.”
Your smile falters as you contemplate his words. You wonder what specifically he's speaking of, but before you can ask, your fiance rises to his feet. He clinks his glass with a spoon. Everyone quiets and turns to him.
“I would like to make a toast,” he announces, “to my beloved Adeline and our impending union.”
You blush adequately and look the besotted lover's part. The boy at your side mutters under his breath, “I didn't know he knew so many fancy words.”
You steel another glance at him. He certainly looks like his father. His hair, his eyes, his coloring all belong to his Papa, but the shape of his nose, the set of his lips, and the dimple in his left cheek aren't in the middle-aged man across from you. The differences, though, are for the better. They tell that he is kinder and more humble. You can see his humor and charismatic nature through his smile.
Your fiancé is still talking, but you're stuck in your head. Looking at the younger version of Fernando, you are embarrassed to be engaged to his father. Mateo is your age. Your fiancé is twice your age. The thought makes bile rise in your mouth. Your grip tightens on your wineglass. Your smile doesn't waver, though. You refuse to let it. Just a little while longer, you tell yourself. Fernando concludes his toast. You raise your glass and drain it.
Everything is fine. People are laughing and dancing. The rehearsal dinner has gone off without a hitch. You let yourself breath. But, then, you catch Mateo's eye. His gaze sears. Before you can join the people on the dance floor, he runs his hand down your forearm, entwining his fingers with yours. You feel faint at his touch, almost like you're in high-school again. He leads you to a hidden corner in the massive mansion.
The niche is so small your bodies press up against one another. Goose bumps snake down your arms at his breath on your skin. He reaches out and tugs on a strand of your hair. You can hardly keep your hands from running over his athletic form.
“Mi amour,” he whispers against your skin, “Why must you go through with this?”
You want to explain, but you can't. Instead, you do what every common criminal does best: you lie.
He lets out a frustrated grunt and kisses you fiercely. You shudder against him, wanting more of him but knowing you could never give all of yourself. You break the kiss. You look up into Mateo's eyes and think, What a price to pay. “I better go,” you mumble.
“Be careful,” he warns stingingly. “They are all con-artists out there.”
Yes, they are, you whisper to yourself.
* * * * *
The next morning you walk in on your mother and Fernando making out in the back of chapel where you are about to be married. You aren't surprised. You act like you are shell-shocked, though. You shriek at the sight. You run away sobbing. How else will you sell this? This con requires perfect execution, and you aren't about to let your mom down.
In your mad dash out of the chapel, you run into one of the entering quests. You collapse into his arms and wail, “He doesn't really love me!” Heads shake. People console you. Rich women wearing priceless jewels and dresses worth tens of thousands of dollars gossip to their old, paunchy husbands about the scandal. You've convinced them. Your mother will be proud. Not to mention the million dollar rock on your left ring finger. The con has gone off beautifully. Over the heads of the wealthy guests, you see Mateo's smirking face. Well played, he mouths. Your eyes linger on the only guy that can make your heart lurch with a single smile. Stay or go, you ask yourself, but, honestly, who would turn down a million dollars?